Monday, May 29, 2023

Planter Upgrade

Took a while but I finally finished the upgrades to my 20+ year old cedar planter. I planted this container with a pair of micro-dwarf tomatoes and jalapeno peppers. I predict the tomatoes will eventually dominate the container. We'll see. I am hopeful the peppers will grow tall enough to stay above them.  

I built a tub to hold water in the bottom of the planter using old coroplast election signs and half a tube of sealant. I wasn't sure about having the paint from the signs in contact with the water so I lined that with a few layers of plastic (garbage bags). And I installed an overflow port at one end using a bulkhead I had lying around from a previous project.

Above the top of this tub I placed a couple of unused lids from some storage boxes. I drilled a few small holes for drainage and made larger holes for small plastic containers that can extend down below the deck and into the water. I drilled several holes into the sides of those little containers. Now when the planter is filled with potting soil and the reservoir is filled with water, moisture will be wicked up into the potting soil and the plants will send their roots down to find it. 

To fill the reservoir I made this crude fill tube from the cover from an old school binder, held into shape by a few plastic cable ties. I also lined the inside of the planter with plastic to protect the wood. Although I'm not sure that was really necessary. This planter has survived a couple decades of use now and has yet to rot out. I plan to trim out the top edge of the planter to hide the plastic, someday.

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Finally time to plant

It was time to get some plants in containers. I was entertaining guests from out of town this week and the forecast for the next five days looks sunny and clear. My starter plants look starved for nutrients and root space so out they go. But first I have to deal with the boring part of gardening : cleaning up from last year. 

I reuse almost all of my potting soil, usually just sending the clump that comes up with the old root balls down to the compost bin. Then I top up with new potting soil or reused soil from another container I'm not using. I mix in a good amount of organic granulated fertilizer, water the surface a few times, then plant.

The old potting soil in these totes is very very dry. Like dust. As I stir it I can usually taste it in my mouth. Lots of little root bits are still in there. I pick out the largest clump but the rest just break down into tiny bits over time. Sometimes the surface of the potting soil is caked in salts from tap water or water soluble fertilizer. I scrap off the top inch or two when I find this but these totes are self watering, with a watering reservoir at the bottom. For most of the season water is not added to the surface of the potting soil so the top layer in these containers looks pretty good.

Doesn't take much to clean things up. I actually planted two cucumbers in this container. I usually plant more than one seed in my starter containers and then have problems committing to pruning the container down to just one plant. And when I go to plant them outside I have the same problem. I have a hard time parting with the extra plants so I usually double plant my containers on the balcony. It gets crowded but if one plant dies, I always have a back-up.

After a few years in the sun and snow these storage totes start to breakdown. It's hard to see in this image but the this blue tote is covered in cracks. The walls of the tote have softened and it's starting to bulge out against the weight of the potting soil. It even has a split running up the middle. So this is probably the last season for this tote. Still holding water in the bottom though, for now. Good for one more go.

Friday, May 5, 2023


The pepper and micro dwarf tomato seedlings have been doing well in the kitchen window for about a week now. The peppers look a little spindly but I'm used to that. They tomatoes look great. You can tell they're determinate varieties. Very compact looking. Probably about time for all of these little guys to move up to a bigger homes. Not quite yet. Soon.

My cucumber seedlings are just putting out their first true leaves. I keep them under the grow light. I won't be putting these out for a while. Not until the end of May.

Monday, May 1, 2023

Time to refurbish my favorite planter

I built this cedar planter over 20 years ago and I must have done something right because it hasn't rotted out or fallen apart yet. I over-built it, using 2x4s to hold it all up. And I coated it generously with an outdoor grade clear-coat. At some point I made it deeper and I can tell I didn't put the same care into the extension because it's breaking down much faster than the original wood.

My plan is to add a water reservoir to the bottom and turn it into a wicking box: a self-watering container. And while I'm at it I want to scrape and sand down the outside of it and apply a few more layers of wood finish. 


I was surprised by how much potting soil this thing holds. I filled two large garbage bags, which I plan to put back into the container when it's finished. The bottom of the box was lined with a yellow garbage bag and that must have helped protect the coated 1/2 inch plywood bottom of the box. Even the ends of the 2x4s that poke up into the growing area were still solid. Lots of clear coating and silicon sealed joints kept if protected over the years.

When I attached the second layer of cedar boards to the original container I used some 2x2 blocks and nails to hold it together. Those were not treated in any way and years of being under the potting soil have rotted them. I'll have to fix that up. 

Something I found interesting was the moisture distribution in the box. The potting soil on the side that sits along the outside of the balcony, where it is more likely to be kept moist by rain, was nice and damp all the way to the bottom of the box. But the potting soil in the side of the box away from the edge of the balcony that doesn't receive as much rain was bone dry, all the way down. I would have thought the moisture in one side of the box would be pulled into the side that was drier but I guess not.